I have a model of a ’71 Dodge Demon 340 Wedge – which is all I can afford these day. A real ’71 Demon 340 – today – costs more than most of us can afford these days.
That wasn’t the case back in ’71 – when a brand-new Demon 340 cost about $2,700. Almost anyone could afford that. Granted, that $2,700 is about $20,000 in today’s devalued money. But it’s still not a lot of money – for a V8 muscle car.
Which is what that sum did buy back in ’71.
But why did it only cost that much?
Part of the reason is that the Demon was based on the Dart, which was a basic economy car that was transformed into a muscle car. This was easy – inexpensive – to do back in ’71, because a Dart was already everything a muscle car needed to be, fundamentally. It was rear-drive. It was designed to accommodate a V8. All it needed to be a muscle car was a powerful V8 – which the 340 Wedge small block was – plus a heavy-duty suspension, bigger wheels/tires and cosmetic/trim enhancements. All of these were bolt-ons. High-performance parts from other Mopar models (or just off-the-shelf) transformed a six-cylinder grocery-getter Dart into a 340 Demon, just by bolting them on.
Anyone could do it. And Dodge did.
That is also, by the way, how the first muscle car – the 1964 Pontiac GTO – was put-together, too. Take a Tempest, which was Pontiac’s entry-level car at the time and add a high-powered 389 V8 from one of Pontiac’s bigger cars and – voila! – a muscle car.
And an affordable car.
The GTO was specifically meant to be within the means of young, first-time buyers – often just out of high school. Imagine that. A high school grad’s first car, a V8 muscle car. Today of course such cars are middle-aged guys’ cars – because it takes working until you’re middle-aged before you’re in a position to spend the pushing $40k it takes to buy any new V8-powered muscle car. Once upon a better time, you got the car and got the girl. Now – by the time you get the car – you probably need Viagra.
The Demon (and others like it, such as the Olds Cutlass 350 Rallye and the Ford Maverick Grabber) were an attempt to return to those roots because by the early ’70s, car like the GTO had become too expensive – both to buy and insure – for most first-time, just out-of-high-school buyers. So, Dodge – and Olds and Ford – revisited the original concept, to bring affordable muscle cars back.
That’s not possible, today – in part because there aren’t any rear-drive economy cars designed to accommodate a V8. Today’s economy cars are all front-wheel-drive and not designed to accommodate even a V6. The whole car would have to be re-engineered, which would be expensive. And they’re already expensive. Most cost nearly as much as the ’71 Demon cost – about $20k in today’s money, which is the same in terms of buying power as $2,700 was in ’71 money.
They cost that much, in part, because they come standard with things the Demon didn’t, such as AC and power windows, locks, etc. All nice to have, but all of which add to what it costs. There is also, of course, the cost of government – whether you want to have (and pay for it) or not. This includes the cost of such things as the 4-6 air bags that every new car comes standard with and which every new car must also be designed around. The Dart had a simple, bolt-on steering wheel that could be easily and inexpensively replaced with a fancier/sportier one as part of the transformation into a Demon. Replacing the air-blobb’d steering wheel of a modern car is neither simple nor inexpensive. Even the seats (which often have air bags, too) are part of the “safety” package and difficult for that reason to swap around.
The Demon and its kind were feasible precisely because they were affordable. Both to make and to buy.
The Demon was something else, too.
Though classified as a “compact” when it was new, it was 192.5 inches long (slightly longer overall than a 2022 Camry) and so would fall into the mid-sized class today. It had usable rear seats (unlike a new Camaro’s or Mustang’s) and a trunk that was much larger than the truncated trunks of today’s full-size cars. It was, in other words, a practical car as well as a muscle car that was also an affordable car.
There are no such new cars available today.
Which is a measure of what we’ve lost – and not just in terms of the cost.
. . .
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